The Fresco of Theseus: A Thought Experiment

The Fresco Of Theseus By Freddie Ross

In the magnificent Villa Dei Misteri, in the ancient city of Pompeii, there is a beautiful fresco dating back to around 100 B.C. The image is that of Theseus slaying a Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull creature from ancient Greek mythology. A fresco is a kind of wall painting where pigments are mixed with water and applied to wet plaster and it is very durable. However…time has taken its toll. Not only was it damaged in an earthquake in 62 A.D., but it also suffered some damage during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius seventeen years later. Over the years it has been the subject of both chemical and physical degradation. Cracks had formed and there were small parts missing.

Since the excavation in 1909 several restorations have been made to the fresco in order to preserve it and restore it to its former glory. All the restorations have paid off and the fresco looks exactly the same as it did over two thousand years ago. But during the course of almost a hundred years and numerous restorations, everything from the pigments in the paint to the lime plaster it was merged with to the wall have been replaced, piece by piece. In fact, there is nothing of the original plaster and pigments left in the fresco.

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So, is it the same fresco?

Freddie Ross

Freddie Ross

Art Historian

This thought experiment is a rewrite of the classic thought experiment called The Ship of Theseus.

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